26 November 2005

Global Warming: the numbers

I was challenged in a locked post on the blog of foreverbeach to show some numerical proof that humans are making an impact on global warming. leenoox's argument was that cow farts contain more greenhouse gasses, and that humans contribute such a tiny amount it doesn't make a difference. I wrote an informative reply I wanted to post here.


You are correct when you say that humans do not create most of the CO_2 in the atmosphere. In fact, we create roughly 4.5% of what is released into the atmosphere every year. [3] In numerical amounts, it's around 5.5 billion tons of carbon yearly due to fossil fuel burning, and 1.6 billion tons from deforestation. [4] The problem is that this 7.1 billion tons of carbon per year is more than the Earth's ecosystems, oceans, etc., can absorb back up - scientists believe these only account for some 2.0 billion tons. We directly measure that every year 3.2 billion tons of carbon (in the form of CO_2) stays in the atmosphere. There's another 1.9 billion tons of carbon unaccounted for, but we still have a the 3.2 billion we KNOW is going into the atmosphere.

Every year 3.2 billion tons of carbon is being added to the atmosphere. The carbon cycle was nicely balanced before humans came along burning fossil fuels. [3] Rather than reducing the amount of carbon that humans produce we could instead solve the problem by making all animals stop breathing, preventing any forest fires, stopping decomposition, and capturing all carbon released from the ocean. This is left as an exercise for the reader.

10 comments:

DoreneMLorenz said...

Hey, I live in Alaska and as far as I am concerned - Global Warming, BRING IT ON!!

We have fossels of palm trees and a record that the ocean used to be 70 degrees here.

Global warming really beats the alternative, global cooling!!

zandperl said...

I'm under the impression that a number of buildings far north will become structurally unsound as the permafrost melts. As houses are typically built, their foundations are anchored in the permafrost and when that softens the foundations can move, destroying the whole building.

"Permafrost can form an extremely strong and stable foundation material if it is kept in the frozen state, but if it is allowed to thaw, the soil becomes extremely weak and foundations built on it are almost guaranteed to fail." Larry Gedney, Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Philip Del Ricci said...

To say nothing of what it will do to the ski industry.

Peace,

P. Del Ricci - Dark Glass

utenzi said...

I know I'm supposed to be all up in arms about global warming but like Dor, up above, I really don't see why.

Maybe it's because I've never thought that humans were in this for the long haul. A few degrees warmer isn't going to bother the dominant organism on the planet--bacteria, ZP, nor most of the others. And it's not going to be all that harmful to our species either though a great number of individuals will certainly be harmed.

You just can't take this longterm forecasting stuff too seriously, ZP.

T.S. Idiot said...

There is also the threat of more severe weather as temperatures increase, raising the temperature of the oceans, yielding more powerful and more frequent hurricanes. Maybe when New York gets hit by a major hurricane, people will demand change. Until then I'm sure America will continue with the "bring it on" mentality.

zandperl said...

TSI:
While that is true in the long run (multiple decades), this year's and the past few years' streak of hurricanes is still within the limits of normal variability. In fact, prior to the last few years we had unusually few and weak hurricanes. If this year repeats another ten times though, then we can conclude it's global warming.

Anji said...

Cows can't fart.
I'm 'only' 50 years old, when I was small no one had central heating and most people didn't have one car, let alone two. We were taught at school that we were haeding for the next ice-age.
Do you think that we have enough statistics to really predict what is going to happen next?

zandperl said...

Anji:
Cows can't fart.
If you do a google search on the phrase "cow fart" you'll find numerous webpages that contradict you. The most believable ones explain that cows stomachs contain bacteria called methanogens which help them digest and create methane as a waste product. Methane created in the intestine will be released as a fart while methane produced in the stomachs will be released as a belch. There's a lot more methane created in the stomachs than the intestines, so cows actually belch a lot more than they fart, but they do fart some. [1] It's the methane in the farts/belches of cows and other ruminants that we refer to when we colloqually say "cow farts cause global warming," however carbon dioxide has a bigger effect because there's so much more of it.

As for what we know now vs. what we knew then, We have definitely taken a lot of data since your childhood circa 1950. The data we had up to 1950 looked like a thousand years of cooling (since the year 1000) with a little bit of warming in the last forty years (since 1910). At the time, the data for 1910-1950 looked like it was probably just a statistical anamoly. However, since 1950 the average global temperature has continued to rise, and more dramatically than anything else we have in the data. With nearly 100 years of dramatic warming we can safely conclude that recent trends are for global warming. [2] The wonder of science is that as we get more data, we get to revise our theories.

Uncle Pavian said...

Don't forget volcanoes. We'd have to plug all the volcanoes.

On the other hand, there's the New Scientist online edition, wherein it saith: "Failing ocean current raises fears of mini ice age".

Happy motoring...

qqq said...

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